The Flower Market Year – Book Review and Prize Draw

12 MONTHS AT NEW COVENT GARDEN FLOWER MARKET

By SIMON LYCETT

Published by Simon J Lycett Ltd

Hardback 192 pages, £21 approx

ISBN 978-1-9160912-0-7

Book photography by Michelle Garrett

Blog photos: bramblegarden

Florist Simon Lycett thinks nothing of working with 20,000 stems of roses for a wedding. I am trying to picture the scene, and finding it hard to imagine 20,000 flowers. Then Simon tells me this isn’t a one off. It’s something he gets to do on a very regular basis. I’m lucky enough to have a window on his extraordinary life, for just one day. I am visiting the New Covent Garden Flower Market, and Simon is my guide.

It’s still dark outside as I set off at 6am to meet Simon at the Flower Market in Nine Elms, London. We are standing amongst more flowers than I’ve ever seen, and we are inspecting the roses. Simon who has written a book about the market, explains that his customers have “magical weddings, the world over.” He loves the buzz of creating “magical settings in a world where everything is possible and the words ‘can’t do’ are never uttered.” It’s a revealing conversation, as he explains his customers expect total perfection. “They must have the best of everything. They’ll notice a little mark on the petal, and that’s no good. Utter perfection is what counts. The client is king.”

Simon, who regularly appears on television and radio, explains that everything starts with the selection of flowers at the market. And it’s clear that his relationship with the flower sellers is key. They seem almost like family, and it’s not surprising as Simon has been buying from the same people for 30 years.

We are introduced to Dennis Edwards who has been getting up at 2am to sell flowers for 54 years. His family are porters and sellers of fruit and vegetables. He’s the only one in his family to go into the flower market business. He describes it as a passion, rather than job. A life’s work to supply the creme de la creme.

In his book, The Flower Market Year, Simon says Dennis always has a few “specials” – buckets and trays of unusual items which he sets aside and keeps for Simon. “Dennis was the first person to ever serve me when, as a timid 20 year old, I ventured into the Flower Market for the first time. Dennis was then, and still is now, a Flower Market institution, always going above and beyond to find the very finest flowers and foliage, and ever in search of the unusual and the innovative, wanting to offer the largest, the biggest and the best blooms in the building.

“Born in Drury Lane, Dennis has worked in all three of the Flower Markets, firstly in the original Covent Garden Market, then, when it moved in 1974 to Vauxhall, in the New Covent Garden Flower Market, and now in the current (interim) market site a little further along Nine Elms Lane. In 2022, when all development is complete and he moves into the ‘New’ Covent Garden Market, he will be a record breaker!”

It’s fascinating to watch them talking. It’s as if each one knows already what the other is thinking. It’s clear Dennis instinctively knows which flowers Simon will need for his projects, and as I look around, perfection is key. I can’t fault anything. I’ve never seen flowers of such superb quality. It’s a scene that stays in the memory like a photograph because it’s so out of the ordinary.

Simon set out to record the workings of the flower market to “capture a real sense of the place,” with its salesmen and women, customers, porters, buyers and suppliers.

His book captures month by month what he’s seen and bought, and what’s inspired him to create floral decorations for his clients, for weddings, parties and corporate events. Simon doesn’t mention it, but on his website there are ‘thank you’ letters relating to HRH Princess Eugenie’s wedding (state entrance, grand staircase and reception room “absolutely stunning”) and also the marriage of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall (reception flowers, “magnificent”). Simon simply says “From humble beginnings we have grown into one of the most sought-after and well known names in the industry.”

Although Simon wrote the book to highlight the flower market year, his own fascinating life story is woven into the pages. Talking about buckets of blackberries, for example, he writes: ” When I worked at Pulbrook and Gould, stems of blackberries sold for the same price as spray roses and I will never forget the posies and arrangements created by the workroom there, featuring jewel-like bright berries glistening amongst stems of Oceana and Doris Ryker roses.

“Having left Pulbrook and Gould to become a freelance florist, I started to travel about the country, as much of my work was outside the city. For several summers when visiting my family in Warwickshire, or staying as I often did with friends in Northamptonshire, I used to fill the boot with anything I could gather from friends and family and sell it to one or more of the foliage suppliers in New Covent Garden Flower Market. The stems of blackberries that I cut and bunched used to pay for my petrol each week, and the car tax was funded by the branches of rosehips, damsons and wild apples that I crammed into the car before heading up the A40. ”

Selecting flowers from the market, Simon provides 30 ideas for flower arrangements, with step-by-step photographs and instructions. My favourites are the rose heart, the sweet peas in tins, and the artichoke bowl.

Having seen photos of his wedding and party flowers, it’s interesting to see the preferred choice for his own flowers- for his Scottish Highlands holiday home- is simple bottles filled with tiny sprigs of flowers and a few pebbles from the beach. Truly, he can make anything look special.

I’ve had a wonderful time with Simon, seeing the flower market in all its glory. What I’ve learned is that Simon relishes the magical weddings and corporate events with the ‘wow factor’ flowers. But he also sees the beauty in the simple things -a bunch of narcissi- the first of the season from the Scilly Isles. The scent of the flowers will always remind me of a lovely day spent at the market with a truly inspirational florist.

There’s one copy of the book to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. Names will be randomly pulled out of a hat. International entries are welcome, as well as the UK. The publisher’s decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. Usual rules apply.

Links : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flower-Market-Year-2019-Months/dp/1916091202

https://www.simonlycett.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Florist/Simon-Lycett-Ltd-1503980453205762/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Local-Business/bramblegarden/posts/

Garden Media Guild events https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/

@kgimson on twitter.

Karengimson1 on instagram.

Thank you to my amazingly loyal and growing band of readers. I appreciate your taking the time to read my blog, and for leaving comments.

Winners….

Many thanks for reading my book and product reviews. Here are the names of recent winners:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade : won by 30 Days of Wild Parenting, Joshua Johnson.

Clip garden gloves: won by Wilma Wilson

Dancing with Bees by Brigit Strawbridge Howard won by Debi Holland.

Incognito insect sprays and sun cream collection won by Suella.

The Good Bee Book, won by Florasforum.

Links: Orchard Odyssey review: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/27/an-orchard-odyssey-book-review-and-prize-draw/

Clip Gloves: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/15/clip-glove-on-trial/

Dancing with Bees https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Incognito https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Incognito+

Good Bee Book https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Good+bee+book

Thanks again for reading and taking part. New Books to Follow: Wilding by Stephen Rutt. We Made a Meadow, Yvette Verner. The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare. There’s also new watering hosepipes from Hozelock and a biomix plant feed maker. Are there any new products/ books you would recommend?

An Orchard Odyssey- Book Review and Prize Draw

By Naomi Slade

Published by Green Books

Hardback 224 pages £24.99

ISBN: 978-0-85784-326-5

There are many things in life I’m not able to change at the moment. I’m sure some of you will be feeling the same. I am worried and unsettled by what’s happening in the UK, and around the world. I feel as if I’m just watching and waiting for people in power to start making some sensible decisions- or decisions I understand at least.

Focussing on something positive, I’ve decided to plant fruit trees. Reading through Naomi Slade’s book, An Orchard Odyssey, there’s hope written on every page. To plant a tree is to believe in a better future. I’m planning a community orchard. Something to bring people together. Sharing and caring is the way forward. I’ve been mulling this over for a while, and Naomi’s book gives me the answers I need to take the first steps.

It’s fascinating and reassuring to hear about restoration projects for old orchards. There’s a renewed interest in traditional methods of orchard management and on locally grown and heritage fruit . “Orchards are increasingly being reclaimed by communities and used in new ways. Not only are they a social resource, but as an archetype of sustainable agriculture there is also potential for enterprise, skills acquisition and learning activities- all on the back of biodiversity.”

I’m keen to know more about newly- planted orchards providing a shared resource and the book has a section on how to make a community orchard happen. There’s tips on creating a plan, getting local support, forming a group and thinking about management. There are activities for children and encouraging wildlife with log piles and bee hotels. Using the site as an exhibition area for local artwork sounds inspiring too.

I’ve been involved with many school gardens, designing and project managing builds. It’s something I loved doing. Naomi gives many fresh ideas, practical suggestions on planting and selecting varieties. What she also emphasises is that anyone can grow fruit. With modern dwarfing root stocks, fruit trees can be grown in small spaces. There are types which can be grown in a pot. You don’t even need a garden, some varieties can be grown on a balcony.

Naomi’s beautifully- illustrated book is packed with practical advice written with enthusiasm and passion. Sections on the history of orchards, the origins of apples, and gardening through the ages, contrast with modern breeding projects to develop new varieties and ways to combat pests and diseases.

Reading Naomi’s book should really be on prescription. It’s a joy. A few hours reading and my feeling of calm and sense of equilibrium has returned. Of course, the problems of the world have not gone away. But I feel as if I can do something to make a difference – even if it is planting just one tree. We have to believe small gestures, kindness, a willingness to make things better, actually work. I believe it works magic. What do you say?

The publishers have offered one copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included. No purchase is necessary, there’s no cash alternative and the publisher’s decision is final. Names will be randomly selected.

links: Green Books https://www.greenbooks.co.uk/an-orchard-odyssey

Dancing with Bees- prize draw winner. And The Good Bee Review. New books

Thank you everyone who left a comment on my review of Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s new book, Dancing with Bees. All names were put in a hat and a winner randomly selected. A copy will be posted to Debi Holland when it’s published on 5th September.

photo: Bees loving Echinacea White Swan in my cut flower patch.

I wrote about Brigit’s new book here: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Chelsea Green Publishing. Publication date: 5th September. £20, hardback.

Meanwhile, more new books….I have one prize draw copy to give away of :

The Good Bee- A Celebration of Bees and How to Save Them

by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

Published by Michael O’Mara Books, 2019.

Hardback. £9.99

It’s a delightful little book, full of insights into the secret lives of bees. The section on gardening for bees is particularly helpful. There are five simple steps to start helping bees:

* plant year round flowers, shrubs and trees

*provide nesting sites and materials

*ditch the weedkiller and bug sprays

*leave the mower in the shed

*create a bee watering hole.

There’s ideas for making DIY bee hotels and info on where to site them. A charming, well-written book packed full of interesting facts. It would make a perfect stocking -filler present for anyone wanting to know more about bees.

Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum discovered their passion for bees and beekeeping twelve years ago. Since then they’ve set up Urban Bees, working with communities, charities, businesses and the public to raise awareness about all bees and support bee populations through education. They established a number of apiaries around London, including in Regent’s Park. They have written three books together, including their bestseller, A World Without Bees.

Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. No purchase is necessary. A name will be randomly selected by the publishers. There’s no cash alternative.

Links:

The Good Bee : https://www.mombooks.com/book/the-good-bee/

Dancing with Bees : https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/dancing-with-bees/

Next Review coming up, with a prize draw copy is:

The Garden Jungle, or Gardening to Save the Planet, by Dave Goulson.

https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1070593/dave-goulson.html

It’s been a fantastic summer for books- for wildlife-friendly gardeners.

Dancing with Bees – A Journey Back to Nature

by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Book Review – and prize draw copy to win.

Chelsea Green Publishing

Hardback £20

Publication date: September 5th 2019

Photo: bees in my garden on a seashells cosmos flower.

In early spring, the first sound we hear when we wake up is the hum of bumble bees. They nest in the eaves above our bedroom window, and their comings and goings are a constant source of joy and interest. We worry when it’s cold and wet and they don’t emerge till late. We know when it’s going to be warm and sunny -they are up and about at dawn. Our bees are our own little barometers, and we would miss them if they didn’t arrive each year. Yet we realise we know little about them. We are ashamed to say we don’t know what type of bees they are. My grandfather, who loved nature and worked the land, would have known all about them. How I dearly wish I could ring him up and ask him 50 questions, as I did when I was a child.

Like so many others, we have been preoccupied with work, mortgages, family, children’s schoolwork, then university – then watching our children leave and make their way in the world. Suddenly we realise we have become somehow disconnected with the natural world. We haven’t had time to stop and study. It’s all going on around us, we just haven’t been taking enough notice.

Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s latest book, Dancing with Bees, is a heartwarming story about reconnecting with nature. Bridget regularly used to walk to work, up and over the Malvern Hills from West Malvern to Great Malvern along well-trodden paths edged with wild flowers. But she describes being “So preoccupied with the chattering in my own mind, and getting to work on time, that I was oblivious to the abundant and diverse wildlife afforded by this wonderful mosaic habitat that surrounded me.

“How had I fallen so out of touch with the natural world that I now noticed the changing seasons more by how many layers of clothing I needed to wear to keep me warm ( or cool) than by how many leaves the trees were wearing?”

Brigit is shocked to find she cannot confidently name more than half a dozen of the trees she has just walked past on her way to work. She has “stopped noticing them.”

Her well-written book documents Brigit’s personal journey to make up for lost time and re-embrace nature. Facts about nature- and bees in particular – are woven into a diary of her daily life, making a garden and planting an allotment. Brigit describes some of the bees she identifies and watches them as they forage for food and make nests.

“Having a relationship with the rest of nature is about opening our hearts, our minds, and ourselves, knowing that we can, if we wish, rekindle our lost connections, because somewhere deep inside us all, there lives a little spark of ‘wild’ just waiting to be ignited.”

Dancing with Bees is an engaging book, written from the heart. We can’t fail to be swept along by Brigit’s enthusiastic endeavour. We want to learn more, and she gives us the information we need in an easy to read format. At the same time, it’s a very personal story, and one we might all recognise. We could, and should, take more notice of our surroundings and take time out from our frantic busy lives to reconnect with the natural world around us. It’s a message I’m certainly going to take note of.

Notes:

About the author: Brigit Strawbridge Howard is a wildlife gardener and naturalist. Brigit writes, speaks and campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of native wild bees and other pollinating insects. She lives in North Dorset with her husband Rob.

Links: Dancing with Bees https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dancing-Bees-Brigit-Strawbridge-Howard/dp/1603588485

ISBN: 978 1 60358 848 5

Leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for one copy of Dancing with Bees. A name will be randomly selected, “pulled out of a hat” by the publishers and sent out by them. Please also leave a message if you do not want to be included. All comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this blog post. Thank you.

The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

BOOK REVIEW

By Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles

Produced by Reef Publishing for Cotswold Wildlife Park

£18 inc p&p.

Looking through the mansion window, I see a pretty stone terrace, balustrading covered in rambling roses, mighty English oak trees in the distance. And a rhinoceros. Or two. I’m at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s not your traditional garden view!

I can hear blackbirds, robins -and yes, there’s a lion’s roar, and black siamang gibbons “whooping.” I’m having a special behind the scenes tour with head gardener Tim Miles and gardener and writer Harriet Rycroft.

Tim and Harriet have spent the past 18 months working on a new book The Cotswold Wildlife Park- A Celebration of the Gardens. And there’s plenty to celebrate. The gardens are a paradise of exotic plants, special trees and shrubs, and wild flowers.

Photo: Front cover.

There are more than 250 species of animals and birds living at the wildlife park where important conservation and breeding work is being undertaken. The star attraction is undoubtably the white rhinos – saved from poachers in Africa, and now producing offspring.

Photo: my i-phone pic of page 60 in the book. Original photo credit: Harriet Rycroft.

Rhinos appear to have free rein in the parkland setting, but in fact, their paddock is ringed by a ha ha. It means there are no fences. They can clearly be seen from all surrounding paths. When I say “clearly seen,” I might add that the paths meander around flower beds containing thousands of ornamental onions, Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation, and grasses such as Stipa gigantea (giant oat grass) and cultivars of Miscanthus and Cortaderia (pampas grass). It’s rather a wonderful combination. Rhinos and alliums. You’ll not see that anywhere else in the world.

Planting provides browse material for many species, but also, importantly, shelter for the animals. This might be shade from summer sunshine, or protection from wind and rain. Planting must, of course, let visitors see into enclosures, but it is so exhuberant that the the lines are blurred between visitors, animals and the wider landscape.

I did manage to get a good look at African Spoonbills and Madagascan Teal. But if they wanted to hide from me, they could.

It is interesting to see trained fruit trees along the walled garden enclosures. There’s a perfectly-pruned fig, and around the corner there are espalier cherry and pear trees, fruiting kiwi and grape vines. Bamboo, a favourite fodder for many animals, grows inside and outside of the enclosures, again blurring the boundaries between them.

In the Tropical House I spy a Linne’s Two-towed Sloth. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. He’s nestled in amongst the foliage, rubber plants (Ficus elastica) cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa) and bromeliads and orchids. Branches of oak provide “perches” and there’s an illusion that house plants have “escaped” to take root in this mini-jungle. In a fascinating insight into the relationship between keepers and gardeners Tim explains that any plant plagued with pests such as greenfly, is given to the keepers to be placed in the Tropical House. Exotic birds clean up the plants by eating the pests. A win-win situation all round. Natural pest control at its best.

Continuing the tropical theme, in the protection of the Walled Garden, there’s palm trees, bananas and cannas interplanted with dahlias, Begonia luxurians and Begonia fuchsioides. Plants overspill onto the paving so you don’t notice the concrete kerbs. Creeping plants such as Tradescantia, Plectranthus and Verbena cascade and intermingle.

Phormiums, banana plants and bedding such as geraniums and coleus (solenostenum) provide a contrast in form, colour and texture.

Container planting features fuchsias, begonias, scented pelargoniums, trailing Scaevola Sapphire, twining Thunbergia African Sunset, nemesia- and even a Protea cynaroides (king protea). It’s rightly described as a “theatre with plants.”

There’s a conservatory- leading to the Bat House and Reptile House- where I spotted a pretty pink Cantua buxifolia.

Some sort of pink grevillea also thrives in the protection of the glass.

I’m still searching for the name of this pretty blue flowering plant. Let me know if you have a name for it. It’s rather lovely to visit a garden and find something you haven’t seen before.

No surface seems to be left without cover. This is the end wall of the rhino house, smothered in golden-flowering Fremontodendron California Glory.

We just throw our weeds in a compost bin, but certain weeds growing at the park provide food for the animals. Giant tortoises love stinging nettles, and goose grass or cleavers are relished by some of the herbivorous reptiles. Banana leaves are popular with stick insects and locusts, but are also given to squirrel monkeys. Honey treats are stuck to the leaves. The monkeys have fun picking off the treats, and then spend time cleaning themselves of the delicious sticky honey.

Gardeners don’t just get requests for plant material for food and nesting; prunings such as lavender and rosemary provide useful enrichment / active entertainment for the lions. Keepers fill bags with the clippings to make giant catnip toys.

With so many rare and glorious plants, the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park are a delight to visit all year round. Visiting transports you to another world. A world that’s been created with imagination and passion. There’s nowhere else quite like it.

All pics, apart from the front cover and the baby rhino, are i-phone photos from my head gardener tour.

Links:

Harriet and Tim’s book is available from Cotswold Wildlife Park https://shop.myonlinebooking.co.uk/cotswoldwildlifepark/shop/product-list.aspx?catid=8

Book Review – 10-a-day, the easy way

JAMES WONG

Published by Mitchell Beazley

Hardback £20

ISBN 978-178472-476-4

I’m always looking for new ways to add more fruit and vegetables into our cooking. We grow much of our own veg in the summer, but often run out of ideas, especially when there’s masses of kale or courgettes, for example. I enjoyed James Wong’s How to Eat Better book, so when I saw his new title, 10-a-day the easy way, I had to try the recipes.

I tried the Haddock with Ratatouille recipe which is easy to follow and quick to make- very important after a busy day at work. I cooked diced onions, aubergines, courgettes, red pepper in 2 tbpsn olive oil. Then added a can of tomato passata and a tin of chickpeas. 2tbspn soy sauce, 2 tbsp herbs de Provence, and 4 garlic cloves (crushed) added flavour. I wouldn’t have thought of adding finely-grated zest and juice of half a lemon, but it’s the twist the recipe needs to make it different from anything I’ve made before. I didn’t have any bay leaves, but 2 were mentioned in the recipe. The pan was covered and simmered for 15 minutes while I baked the fish in the oven and added boiling water to a pan of couscous. It was delicious! A nice speedy weekday dinner, incorporating lots of veg, with the minimum of fuss. Sorry there are no photos of the finished meal. It was so tempting- we ate it straight away!

Here are a few sample pages from the book. First there’s an explanation on the science behind 10- a day. There’s no doubt that eating more fruit and veg is good for us. The book is split into sections on breakfast, lunch, dinner, deserts, snacks, sauces, cakes and bakes.

I am going to make the peanut butter cookies next. They sound delicious.

I could see us starting the day with these light and fluffy banana and peanut butter pancakes. Breakfast can be quite boring in our house as we just grab a box of cereal each day.

Fruit crepes with cottage cheese, blueberries and kiwi fruit. Looks and tastes amazing.

Triple Berry Hotcakes- using frozen berries. I have a freezer full of home-grown blueberries and raspberries . Frozen fruit is just as nutritious as fresh, and sometimes cheaper to buy. Incorporated into batter for a pancake – genius idea. Breakfasts will never be the same again!

So, what is a portion? James says it’s 80g of whole fruit or veg or 30g dried fruit or veg. I am surprised to see 30g of tomato purée is 1 portion. I’m now adding it to soups and stews and topping up pasta dishes. Easy. James says people tend to misjudge how small an 80g portion is. When it comes to apples, pears, peaches and avocados, a single fruit is actually 2 portions. Even dried foods count. So you could snack on raisins or add dried mushrooms to a risotto to boost your intake.

I’ve enjoyed working my way through the 80 recipes in James’ new book. His message is clear- eating more fruit and veg is good for your health. But he’s never preachy. He says, if you can’t manage 10 a day, that’s ok. Just eat more than you do at the moment. And that’s what I’m aiming for. The recipes are certainly tasty, and quick to make.

The publishers have one free copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below and let me know if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. It’s ok if you don’t wish to be included as well. The publishers will pull a name out of a hat to randomly select a winner. There’s no cash alternative and the publisher’s decision is final. The book can be sent to international addresses as well as UK.

Death in the Garden – Book Review

Poisonous Plants & Their Use Throughout History

Michael Brown

Pen and Sword Books. Paperback £16.99

ISBN 1526708388

I once turned up at a client’s garden to find foxgloves growing amongst the cut-and- come-again lettuce. Horrified, I carefully weeded them out, but decided I couldn’t be sure I’d found them all. The whole plot had to be dug up and replanted. Growing flowers in the veg plot has become fashionable. But mixing flowers with salads and veg can be deadly. We know foxgloves or digitalis has links with modern medicine to treat heart disorders. All parts of the plant are, however, highly poisonous. Michael Brown, in his book Death in the Garden, says on a toxicity scale of 1 to 20, with 1 being the most lethal, foxgloves are at number 3. The difference between a beneficial and lethal dose being minute.

Foxgloves are just one of the plants listed in Brown’s fascinating book. I’ve grown up knowing about the dangers of deadly and woody nightshade, and giant hogweed. But who knew that aquilegia could be poisonous.

Brown describes how powdered aquilegia seeds were used historically as medicine for jaundice and liver problems right up until the early nineteenth century. The plant, apparently high in vitamin C, was also rather dubiously used to treat scurvy. Luckily, modern medicine has moved on and the plant has reverted back to being used just to decorate our gardens.

Other plants I’ll look at in a different light in future include autumn crocus, bindweed, broom, cherry laurel, daffodils, morning glory and celandine, to name but a few.

And as for basil, I’ll not be able to eat it again without thinking of Brown’s rather bizarre and gory murder story involving a severed head and a pot of herbs! His book is a mixture of fact and fiction – all revolving around plants and poisons. Highly entertaining as well as informative. But you might not be able to sleep at night after reading it.

The book cover says :” Mankind has always had a morbid fascination with poisonous plants; how their poisonous properties were discovered and developed will most likely be left unknown. Over the centuries poisonous plants have been used to remove garden pests, unwanted rivals, and deceitful partners. They have also been used for their medicinal qualities, as rather dangerous cosmetics, even to help seduce a lover, when perceived as an aphrodisiac.

“Death in the Garden is based on Michael Brown’s most popular talk, popular as this subject holds a strange interest, for many will enjoy learning about these treacherous and peculiar plants, their defensive and deadly traits as well as the folklore that has grown around them. ”

Michael Brown has been a head gardener, a college lecturer and designed the medieval gardens at Prebendal Manor, Nassington. He now gives talks and demonstrations on historical gardening .

The publishers have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be included. Comments without wishing to be in the draw are also fine.

Please do not try any of the “recipes” or remedies mentioned in the book.

DISCLAIMER: All the plants mentioned in this blog piece and the above book can cause death or injury. The contents of the review and book are for interest only and the author and publisher accept no liability for any injury caused by the use of the plants.

Links : kindle https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Death-in-the-Garden-Kindle/p/14944

Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Garden-Poisonous-Throughout-History/dp/1526708388

Congratulations to the Winner of The Wild Remedy Prize Draw

Congratulations to Kathy Lewington who has won my prize draw for a copy of Emma Mitchell’s wonderful new book The Wild Remedy.

The publishers Michael O’ Mara Books kindly offered one copy to give away.

I wrote a review of Emma’s book here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/14/the-wild-remedy-book-review/

I love the book and can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve always enjoyed Emma’s drawings and photographs on social media. To have them in a book I can look at every day of the year is a special treat. A treasury of nature.

Thank you to everyone to read my review and left a comment. There will be many more books and gardening products to follow.

Links : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/14/the-wild-remedy-book-review/

Amazon :https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Remedy-Nature-Mends-Diary/dp/1789290422

Michael O’Mara Books https://www.mombooks.com/

Review of Making Winter https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/16/last-minute-christmas-present-ideas-for-gardeners/

Please share on any social media platform you like. Thank you.

The Immortal Yew- Book Review

Tony Hall

Kew Publishing. Hardback. £25

ISBN: 978 1 84246 658 2

I’ve often walked under cathedral-like arches of ancient yew trees and wondered what stories they could tell. Their dense evergreen canopy means low light levels- adding an air of drama and mystery. It’s easy to let imagination run wild. No wonder the yew is linked to so many strange myths and legends.

Here’s my view of the yew walk at Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire on a cold January day a few weeks back. Almost a living sculpture. Hundreds of years of history captured in every twist and turn. I stood and marvelled at its strangeness and beauty.

Tony Hall, Manager at Kew, started on a quest to record our ancient yew trees after a visit to Devon where he found a huge male yew tree in a churchyard in Kenn. He was amazed by its immense size, and wondered just how many other trees there were like this. He set out to travel around Britain and Ireland in search of these venerable trees, and The Immortal Yew is the resulting book.

The book profiles 75 publicly-accessible yews, with details on their appearance, location, folklore and history, accompanied by 100 colour photographs. Each tree has its own story to tell- from fragmented, sprawling trunks, to ones you can sit inside. And there are some that have possibly inspired writers.

Author J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have found inspiration for the gateway to Moria in the Lord of the Rings from visiting the two guardian yews at Stow- on-the -Wold. The two yews flank the door at St Edward’s Church, like a pair of giant lion’s paws. Their photo makes a stunning cover picture for the book.

The Ankerwycke Yew near Wraysbury, Middlesex, is thought to be up to 2,500 years old, making it the oldest known tree on National Trust land. It’s possible the tree was the one under which the Magna Carta was agreed. And where Henry VIII courted the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. In 2002 it was chosen as one of the ’50 Great British Trees,’ to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Not far from the tree are the remains of St Mary’s Priory, a Benedictine convent built in the 12th century in the reign of Henry II. The yew would already have been a notable ancient landmark, substantially more than 1,000 years old, when the priory was built.

Much Marcle Yew, in St Bartholomew’s Church, Ledbury, Herefordshire has an unusual feature. The hollow interior is fitted with wooden benches which seat 12 people and were installed in the 18th century. The bulbous, fluted trunk has a circumference of over 9m. Some of the lower branches are still held up by old Victorian gas lamp columns.

A timeline highlights some key dates in the history of the yew. I have selected just a few of the dates which caught my attention.

  • 140 million years ago Taxaceae (yew family) fossils formed
  • 200BC Herbalist Nikander describes the painful death caused by yew toxin
  • 1066 Battle of Hastings: King Harold killed by an arrow that supposedly pierced his eye, fired from a Norman yew longbow.
  • 1215 Magna Carta signed under the Ankerwycke Yew

More modern dates include

  • 1986 anti-cancer drug Docetaxel, extracted from the leaves of European yew, was patented and later approved for medicinal use.
  • 1994 synthetic cancer drug Taxol was developed.
  • This book is a wonderful celebration of our native yew trees, and all the stories that go with them. It would be a fabulous starting point to a journey around Britain and Ireland. I for one would love to have the opportunity to visit these trees and stand and wonder at their beauty. Perhaps one day I will get the chance to set out on an grand tour. For now though, I’ll dip into Tony’s book and enjoy all the fascinating stories of mythology and folklore. It’s a journey into the past. And also, it would be interesting to see what scientists discover in the future, as I’m sure we haven’t learned all there is to know about these strange and much-valued trees.

    Tony Hall is Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he has worked for the past 17 years. His fascination with natural history began at a young age. He has been working in horticulture for 40 years. Tony is author of Wild Plants of Southern Spain (Kew Publishing, 2017 ).

    The publishers have one free copy to give away in a prize draw for readers of this blog. Please leave a comment below, by Sunday 27th Jan, to be included in the draw. The publisher’s decision is final and there is no cash alternative. UK and international entries are welcome.

    Here is the Amazon link for Tony’s latest book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immortal-Yew-Tony-Hall/dp/1842466585/ref=sr_1_1/258-7276364-2203519?ie=UTF8&qid=1548447890&sr=8-1&keywords=the+immortal+yew

    Have you any favourite yew trees? I regularly visit Easton Walled Gardens near Grantham, where evidence of the Tudor-style walks and walls indicate there has been a garden on the site for at least 400 years. The yew tree tunnel is a much-photographed focal point of this historic restoration project started in 2001.

    Links:

    Melbourne Hall Gardens https://www.melbournehallgardens.com/

    Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

    Kew Gardens https://www.kew.org/

    Kew publishing https://www.kew.org/about-our-organisation/business-services